This is a sci-fi story about parallel universes, and a person who makes contact with a parallel version of themselves to see how their life could have been different. It’s concise! It’s great! Go read it.
This book centers on Maggie, one of the heroines of the Love and Rockets Locas stories, and the hardships – and relationships – that shaped her and her family from childhood through middle age. With her family eager to suppress the truth – about infidelity, abuse, divorce, and painful separations from partners, siblings, and friends – traumas play out in slow motion over many years, but are not fully healed.
In her later years, Maggie may have a chance to (re)connect with the people she loves, before they are truly gone.
This is a well executed, well drawn, well told story. While I’ve seen elements/chapters of this in other collections, there is new material here as well, and the way it is all combined creates a profile of Maggie’s relationships that packs a great emotional punch.
I recommend reading ALL of the Locas stories first, to understand more of Maggie’s life and the relationships (shown here in chapter-length flashbacks) for the greatest impact – and because the Locas stories are GREAT! (Disclosure: I cried at the end of Locas volume 1, so I’m invested in the characters. No, I’m not telling you why I cried.)
I love this – and highly recommend it to all Maggie (and Love and Rockets) fans.
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice book and audiobook published by ECW Press audiobook read by Billy Merasty 2018
This novel is a slow, intense burn – and the audiobook is narrated in an impressively CANADIAN manner!
Evan and his family have a comfortable, modest life on a small Anishinaabe (First Nations) reservation, where he works for the community government in a range of jobs that are enough to keep his spouse and two children warm and fed through brutal Canadian winters. He enjoys hunting to keep his extended family fed through the winter, and he and his wife both enjoy meeting with elders to learn more about the old ways, which their community has partly abandoned in favor of modern trappings that arrived with reliable electricity.
When the power goes out, it disrupts the community’s school and local businesses, but is sure to come back soon.
Then the landlines stop working. Which is exotic.
Then the satellite phones and radios go silent as well. For a community displaced to this isolated reservation a few generations ago, who are accustomed to keeping to themselves, there aren’t any obvious places to go for information that aren’t a great distance away.
And then, refugees begin to arrive from the nearest non-native town, where some sort of societal collapse is underway… It occurs to Evan that the power may not be coming back on again for a very long while, if ever. And, that some members of his community aren’t interested in doing the work required to survive without imported foods and fuels…
The story builds tension throughout, with soft moments of Evan’s children learning Anishinaabemowin words from the elders in between fights breaking out over emergency supplies, armed standoffs, premature deaths, and the realization that a community really shows its character during a crisis…
Actor Billy Merasty’s intense Canadian-ness adds something special to the narration. The sort of chill, slow-paced ‘how are your folks doing’ dialog while tensions mount contributes to the surreal nature of the crisis: these are ordinary people living ordinary lives until the crisis hits, and they maintain their normal pace in a realistic manner. (No one suddenly becomes a super-efficient action-movie-hero! ) His reading of the Anishinaabemowin dialog, and the way that local words mingle with Canadian English so naturally in inter-generational conversations, reminds me of inter-generational, multi-lingual conversations here – they are well written and well performed. (Merasty is a First Nations actor and author himself, though from a different group than the author.)
This is a well-written, compact, increasingly stressful book to read – stressful in a good way. I’m glad I read it!
Less by Andrew Sean Greer published by Little, Brown, and Company audiobook published by Hachette Audio narrated by Robert Petkoff 2017
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize!
Arthur Less is a 49-year old man living in San Francisco, trying to get his new novel published, dreading age 50, and trying to accept that his young partner moved out and moved on. When an invitation arrives to that young ex-partner’s forthcoming wedding (!!), he decides to flee rather than face it.
Piles of previously ignored invitations to be a guest lecturer, a conference speaker, a writer’s retreat participant, and more suddenly find their purpose – helping him avoid humiliation!
His escape out of SF and around the world does more than just help him avoid his feelings about ‘the one that got away:’ it nearly gets him killed, sparks new feelings, introduces new friends, offers insights about his life that he’d rather not have, has him offering to kill students trying to sign up for his classes, and gets him to his 50th birthday in a series of both sweet and absurd misadventures.
The excellent reading by Petkoff had me laughing out loud. Especially the portions translated from German, which Less believes he speaks fluently, to hilarious effect. Also: the general observation from a character that perhaps books about middle-aged white guys feeling sorry for themselves aren’t appealing. HAHAHAHA!
This is a fun, charming, novel about trying with all ones might NOT to see one’s life imitating art.
“Novel Progress” here means I have an update on the progress of my novel, not that making progress is novel in itself… English is silly, isn’t it?
I’m over 43,000 words into my rewrite of my first novella. There’s still a lot of story to go, and I’m impressed that I’ve got so much, considering I’m 62% of the way through the printed first draft, and that draft was just over 50k. (I’m truly rewriting it, and not just retyping it. 62% of 50k would be just 31k, so…)
My writing isn’t as steady as I’d hoped: I’ve had many real-life interruptions and minor crises to resolve. I also take abundant breaks to ensure that I don’t inflame my arms from doing too much of any one activity, having just finished physical therapy for an arm injury recently.
The breaks are unexpectedly beneficial, because the time away from the writing allows me to rethink some of the motivations of the characters. There have been several nights and mornings when I’ve sat up in bed, re-evaluating how some powerful beings came to power, and how they maintain it. There’s another story there, one that I reveal partially in the climax of the first draft. While it should not be fully revealed in this book – I’m keeping the focus on the central character and how she is affected by power struggles from her point of view – refinements of these motivations have already contributed heavily to the wording of the re-write.
I hope to use breaks to decide whether or not the lead character will realize why no one else remembers the things she is talking about from earth. Not even really basic things. There’s a reason, and it was hinted at, but she missed the hint at the time, and hasn’t revisited it. Her understanding of [the cause] won’t change the arc of the story, but it may make things easier for a friend of hers, and that may be worth doing before the story ends…
Summary: I want to complete this draft zealously, and then move into continuity editing and additional story refinements. I know editing is complex, and I’m unsure how long it will really take. I am enjoying the process, and feel I am improving on my old draft. I’m glad I am making the time and space to do this!
I write legal and technical materials professionally, AND I recreationally write a range of other things. Blogs like this, web pages, a surprising number of letters and postcards, diaries, notes for stories, and fiction. Writing is something I have always enjoyed, and I am always writing something, at least for my own satisfaction.
As with so many other fiction writers, the current pandemic has been a wake up call that the popular fictional narratives we have around plagues are not accurate. Yes, in nearly every popular movie, there is a warning from scientists that goes unheeded, and there is needless suffering. Yes, there are rumors and superstitions and panics, and we see those in films and playing out similarly in real life.
Yet, the level of denial visible in real life in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic is shocking. People are devoting significant time to announcing that the pandemic is: a hoax, a domestic conspiracy (despite its global nature), a foreign plot (it is somehow not real but also a foreign bioweapon), a domestic power grab (preventing illness is oppression?), a disease carried by outsiders (again, somehow it is not real but also something strangers bring? WHAT?), something that isn’t real so they flout precautions, something that isn’t real so they sabotage the medicines (but if it isn’t real, why bother sabotaging medicines?), a situation where the vaccine is free but a counterfeit card that falsely claims you were vaccinated costs $400 (so it would be cheaper to go along with the treatment than pretend you did), a private sector plot to embed microchips into people (for generally unexplained purposes, though when they are explained, it always involves something like the location your smartphone already records, which means an additional device would not be necessary)… In this bizarre current reality, the pandemic is somehow BOTH a situation where precautions against catching the illness are banned by a governor AND a situation where that governor’s state requires federal emergency supplies of hospital ventilators and monoclonal antibody treatments for the seriously ill, which the governor suggests people somehow self-medicate with for this illness he says isn’t serious?
If I had written ANY of these things into a fiction story, my writing would have been rejected as implausible. The publishers would have told me that people are not that stupid, and that I should feel bad about making my fellow Americans look so ridiculous.
-I mean, really.
I want people in my fiction writing to be both realistic and smart, but it feels like I can only have one of those two.
I am inspired to post this after reading the tweet above, about news that a sci-fi movie has been interpreted as reality by the anti-vaccine-far-right (who failed to even grasp basic details about the movie they are basing their nonsensical conspiracies on). Their nonsense has gotten so much press that the screenwriter for this remade sci-fi movie had to make public statements emphasizing that it is fiction:
I Am Legend screenwriter dismisses anti-vax claims based on film’s plot
A sci-fi writer hits back at unfounded rumours that Covid jabs turn people into zombies.
(It is still strange to read something on Twitter and later find the tweets I read subsequently inspired news articles…)
The past several years have inspired many discussions about the death of parody in the face of an absurd reality, but the current absurd reality also is killing off the premise that the vast majority of people could consistently act intelligently. Maybe we could get to half, or nearly half, but not an overwhelming majority.
I want a future where people ARE actually intelligent. I want to WRITE futures in which people are intelligent!
I suppose my defense for stories with predominantly intelligent populations will be: yes, but I told you this is fiction.
Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of two women, non-identical twins with a privileged background, living their lives in recently independent Nigeria in the 1960s. One is a university professor who is deeply in love with a political firebrand with a scheming, old-fashioned family that wants him to be with an uneducated woman; the other is a savvy businesswoman and fixer, stepping into her father’s role in the corrupt business world. We get to know them, their lovers, and their households well, the steady patterns of their comfortable lives, the awe in which their rural house staff view them…
And then massacres begin. Massacres of the Igbo people, the ethnic group these characters all belong to within a diverse, post-colonial Nigeria.
It’s clear that the new nation, with many of its persistent, colonial-era power imbalances between groups, cannot stand – the Igbo can’t share a government with people who kill them while calling them infidels. Biafra, a new nation for the Igbo and other southeastern groups, is declared… and a slow-motion disaster unfolds, as Nigeria won’t let them go, the military intervenes, and the major powers of the world take sides – and nearly all take the side of Nigeria against Biafra.
By making the decline personal, by seeing these sisters and those they care about take up the cause of their new nation, and then gradually have their world destroyed, is brutal. The decline, the horror, the hardships, the atrocities, reading about their (fictional but representative) experience of it all while knowing how badly it ended in real life – it is gutting.
I listened to the audiobook version, brilliantly performed by Zainab Jah. Her presentation of the Igbo phrases, the local and British accents, pleading children, shouty-old-ladies ordering people around or accusing them of witchcraft, the swearing Americans – her performance was FANTASTIC!
This is a brilliant novel, and a forever timely reminder of both the damage done by the empires of the past and the absence of a peaceful path for self-determination for groups of all types today, who are trapped indefinitely within the borders of a previous century.
This award-winning novel tells the story of Natsuko, a young-ish-but-not-young writer who survived her youth of poverty and hardship, only to be uncertain of her purpose and judged by her peers for not living a conventional woman’s life, as they have.
While Natsuko’s dear older sister struggles as a single mother by working at a failing bar, repeating some of their mother’s choices and hardships, Natsuko wonders if motherhood is the relationship that will fill her own life with meaning. While trying to come to a decision, Natsuko approaches those around her with something close to an interviewer’s curiosity, as they reveal their own views, compromises, and dissatisfaction with their choices and obligations.
This novel manages to describe so much: abuse, living hand-to-mouth, the limited options available to women who leave their marriages, they way you can go back to your hometown (but it will NOT be the same), dreary literary readings, creepy pressures from relatives to bear children and tend to thankless in-laws, the (unnecessary and ruinous) shame associated with adoption and artificial insemination, and the atmosphere of countless rooms near train stations where people meet for coffee, rounds of cocktails, deep confessions, and inappropriate offers! (I am transported back to gray November days in Tokyo just writing this…)
The novel covers many years, and so many conversations, Throughout that time, season after season, the pressures on Natsuko to resolve her life situation (and/or finish her new book) never let up.
Breasts and Eggs is a well written, engrossing book about struggling to make a life that works while withstanding (gendered) societal pressures and writers block. It’s well told, and I’m glad I read it.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami translated by Jay Rubin published by Vintage Books, New York 1997
This is an imaginative novel that somehow weaves its story within contemporary suburban Japan, historical occupied Manchuria, and an supernatural parallel space filled with danger.
Toru Okada is an ordinary man, who left his law office job to find something more satisfying while his wife’s job pays the bills. During his time of reflection, his cat disappears; then his wife starts working very peculiar hours, and stops coming home altogether. That’s when strangers begin to reach out to him with cryptic warnings about the flow of water, he hears rumors of a cursed neighborhood home, and the malevolence of his in-laws appears to take on a supernatural force.
This is not the sort of Isekai story that I’ve written about in the past: instead of the ordinary Japanese protagonist falling into another world, the ordinary world is instead revealed to be much stranger than the protagonist had noticed.
Odd characters, almost all of them women, interact with Okada in emotionally supportive and/or physically intimate ways as he navigates the altered reality that is gradually revealed to him.
(Okada seems especially comfortable when women of any age are with him, even without knowing their real names (!), who they are working for, or much about their motivations. This gives me some ideas of why his marriage didn’t succeed (other plot events notwithstanding), but this combination of being easygoing and oblivious is entirely plausible for the character.)
This is surely the least predictable novel I’ve read in years. While the protagonist seems so ordinary, the story that unfolds around and through him and his supporting characters is engaging, suspenseful, atmospheric (the humidity of summer rains or chill coldness of being underground are so well described), and is engrossing. This is my first Murakami novel, but won’t be my last.
The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino translated by Rebecca Copeland published by Canongate, Edinburgh 2012
This is a beautiful, sad, vivid retelling of a Japanese myth (Izanami and Izanagi) that I was previously unfamiliar with.
This story is narrated from the underworld, by someone who died young, and who writes of her misfortune. On a beautiful, isolated, tropical island, she was one of countless underfed locals. Her childhood came to an abrupt end when she was forced into a traditionally necessary taboo role… which prepared her, in some respects, for another role in the afterlife, where she learns that women being forced into taboo roles has a VERY long tradition.
This story is lyrical, harsh, and has haunting imagery. The modest narrator’s experiences of hunger, love, attachment, and betrayal give her deep sensitivity to the suffering of the goddess she comes to serve, and their stories interact in unexpected ways. It is a moving story written in a timeless way.